Government Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD v. NOEL CANNING ET AL.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, a case that piqued the interest of many constitutional scholars by questioning whether the president can legally appoint government officials without Senate approval during congressional recesses—even when the Senate is meeting in “pro forma” sessions where a few senators gavel in for only a few minutes. The answer to the question, according to all nine justices, is “no.” Although the decision’s impact on executive appointments will be significant, it will also have practical impacts on the National Labor Relations Board—and by extension the labor and employment laws affecting U.S. employers—because the appointments in question were for three NLRB members who issued decisions for 18 months.
U.S. Supreme Court
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD v. NOEL CANNING ET AL.
June 26, 2014
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
(Bench Opinion)OCTOBER TERM, 20131
No. 12-1281. Argued January 13, 2014-Decided June 26, 2014
Respondent Noel Canning, a Pepsi-Cola distributor, asked the D. C. Circuit to set aside an order of the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that the Board lacked a quorum because three of the five Board members had been invalidly appointed. The nominations of the three members in question were pending in the Senate when it passed a December 17, 2011, resolution providing for a series of "pro forma sessions," with "no business . . . transacted," every Tuesday and Friday through January 20, 2012. S. J., 112th Cong., 1st Sess., 923. Invoking the Recess Appointments Clause-which gives the President the power "to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate," Art. II, §2, cl. 3-the President appointed the three members in question between the January 3 and January 6 pro forma sessions. Noel Canning argued primarily that the appointments were invalid because the 3-day adjournment between those two sessions was not long enough to trigger the Recess Appointments Clause. The D. C. Circuit agreed that the appointments fell outside the scope of the Clause, but on different grounds. It held that the phrase "the recess," as used in the Clause, does not include intra-session recesses, and that the phrase "vacancies that may happen during the recess" applies only to vacancies that first come into existence during a recess.
1. The Recess Appointments Clause empowers the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess-intra-session or inter-session-of sufficient length. Pp. 5-33.
(a) Two background considerations are relevant to the questions here. First, the Recess Appointments Clause is a subsidiary method for appointing officers of the United States. The Founders intended the norm to be the method of appointment in Article II, §2, cl. 2, which requires Senate approval of Presidential nominations, at least for principal officers. The Recess Appointments Clause reflects the tension between the President's continuous need for "the assistance of subordinates," Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 , 117, and the Senate's early practice of meeting for a single brief session each year. The Clause should be interpreted as granting the President the power to make appointments during a recess but not offering the President the authority routinely to avoid the need for Senate confirmation.
Second, in interpreting the Clause, the Court puts significant weight upon historical practice. The longstanding "practice of the government," McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 401, can inform this Court's determination of "what the law is" in a separation-of-powers case, Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 176. See also, e.g., Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361 , 401; The Pocket Veto Case, 279 U.S. 655 , 689-690. There is a great deal of history to consider here, for Presidents have made recess appointments since the beginning of the Republic. Their frequency suggests that the Senate and President (*2) have recognized that such appointments can be both necessary and appropriate in certain circumstances. The Court, in interpreting the Clause for the first time, must hesitate to upset the compromises and working arrangements that the elected branches of Government themselves have reached. Pp. 5-9.
(b) The phrase "the recess of the Senate" applies to both inter-session recess (i.e., breaks between formal sessions of the Senate) and intra-session recesses (i.e., breaks in the midst of a formal session) of substantial length. The constitutional text is ambiguous. Founding-era dictionaries and usages show that the phrase "the recess" can encompass intra-session breaks. And this broader interpretation is demanded by the purpose of the Clause, which is to allow the President to make appointments so as to ensure the continued functioning of the Government while the Senate is away. The Senate is equally away and unavailable to participate in the appointments process during both an inter-session and an intra-session recess. History offers further support for this interpretation. From the founding until the Great Depression, every time the Senate took a substantial, non-holiday intra-session recess, the President made recess appointments. President Andrew Johnson made the first documented intra-session recess appointments in 1867 and 1868, and Presidents made similar appointments in 1921 and 1929. Since 1929, and particularly since the end of World War II, Congress has shortened its inter-session breaks and taken longer and more frequent intra-session breaks; Presidents accordingly have made more intra-session recess appointments. Meanwhile, the Senate has never taken any formal action to deny the validity of intra-session recess appointments. In 1905, the Senate Judiciary Committee defined "the recess" as "the period of time when the Senate" is absent and cannot "participate as a body in making appointments," S. Rep. No. 4389, 58th Cong., 3d Sess., p. 2, and that functional definition encompasses both intra-session and inter-session recesses. A 1940 law regulating the payment of recess appointees has also been interpreted functionally by the Comptroller General (an officer of the Legislative Branch). In sum, Presidents have made intra-session recess appointments for a century and a half, and the Senate has never taken formal action to oppose them. That practice is long enough to entitle it to "great weight in a proper interpretation" of the constitutional provision. The Pocket Veto Case, supra, at 689.
The Clause does not say how long a recess must be in order to fall within the Clause, but even the Solicitor General concedes that a 3-day recess would be too short. The Adjournments Clause, Art. I, §5, cl. 4, reflects the fact that a 3-day break is not a significant interruption of legislative business. A Senate recess that is so short that it does not require the consent of the House under that Clause is not long enough to trigger the President's recess-appointment power. Moreover, the Court has not found a single example of a recess appointment (*3) made during an intra-session recess that was shorter than 10 days. There are a few examples of inter-session recess appointments made during recesses of less than 10 days, but these are anomalies. In light of historical practice, a recess of more than 3 days but less than 10 days is presumptively too short to fall within the Clause. The word "presumptively" leaves open the possibility that a very unusual circumstance could demand the exercise of the recess-appointment power during a shorter break. Pp. 9-21.
(c) The phrase "vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate," Art. II, §2, cl. 3, applies both to vacancies that first come into existence during a recess and to vacancies that initially occur before a recess but continue to exist during the recess. Again, the text is ambiguous. As Thomas Jefferson observed, the Clause is "certainly susceptible of two constructions." Letter to Wilson Cary Nicholas (Jan. 26, 1802), in 36 Papers of Thomas Jefferson 433. It "may mean 'vacancies that may happen to be' or 'may happen to fall' " during a recess. Ibid. And, as Attorney General Wirt wrote in 1821, the broader reading is more consonant with the "reason and spirit" of the Clause. 1 Op. Atty. Gen. 632. The purpose of the Clause is to permit the President, who is always acting to execute the law, to obtain the assistance of subordinate officers while the Senate, which acts only in intervals, is unavailable to confirm them. If a vacancy arises too late in the session for the President and Senate to have an opportunity to select a replacement, the narrower reading could paralyze important functions of the Federal Government, particularly at the time of the founding. The broader interpretation ensures that offices needing to be filled can be filled. It does raise a danger that the President may attempt to use the recess-appointment power to circumvent the Senate's advice and consent role. But the narrower interpretation risks undermining constitutionally conferred powers more seriously and more often. It would prevent a President from making any recess appointment to fill a vacancy that arose before a recess, no matter who the official, how dire the need, how uncontroversial the appointment, and how late in the session the office fell vacant.
Historical practice also strongly favors the broader interpretation. The tradition of applying the Clause to pre-recess vacancies dates at least to President Madison. Nearly every Attorney General to consider the question has approved the practice, and every President since James Buchanan has made recess appointments to pre-existing vacancies. It is a fair inference from the historical data that a large proportion of recess appointments over our Nation's history have filled pre-recess vacancies. The Senate Judiciary Committee in 1863 did issue a report disagreeing with the broader interpretation, and Congress passed a law known as the Pay Act prohibiting payment of recess appointments to pre-recess vacancies soon after. However, the Senate subsequently abandoned its hostility. In 1940, (*4) the Senate amended the Pay Act to permit payment of recess appointees in circumstances that would be unconstitutional under the narrower interpretation. In short, Presidents have made recess appointments to preexisting vacancies for two centuries, and the Senate as a body has not countered this practice for nearly three-quarters of a century, perhaps longer. The Court is reluctant to upset this traditional practice where doing so would seriously shrink the authority that Presidents have believed existed and have exercised for so long. Pp. 21-33.
2. For purposes of the Recess Appointments Clause, the Senate is in session when it says that it is, provided that, under its own rules, it retains the capacity to transact Senate business.
This standard is consistent with the Constitution's broad delegation of authority to the Senate to determine how and when to conduct its business, as recognized by this Court's precedents. See Art. I, §5, cl. 2; Marshall Field & Co. v. Clark, 143 U. S. 649 , 672; United States v. Ballin, 144 U. S. 1 , 5, 9. Although the Senate's own determination of when it is and is not in session should be given great weight, the Court's deference cannot be absolute. When the Senate is without the capacity to act, under its own rules, it is not in session even if it so declares.
Under the standard set forth here, the Senate was in session during the pro forma sessions at issue. It said it was in session, and Senate rules make clear that the Senate retained the power to conduct business. The Senate could have conducted business simply by passing a unanimous consent agreement. In fact, it did so; it passed a bill by unanimous consent during its pro forma session on December 23, 2011. See 2011 S. J. 924; Pub. L. 112-78 . The Court will not, as the Solicitor General urges, engage in an in-depth factual appraisal of what the Senate actually did during its pro forma sessions in order to determine whether it was in recess or in session for purposes of the Recess Appointments Clause.
Because the Senate was in session during its pro forma sessions, the President made the recess appointments at issue during a 3-day recess. Three days is too short a time to bring a recess within the scope of the Clause, so the President lacked the authority to make those appointments. Pp. 33-41.
705 F. 3d 490 , affirmed.
BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS and ALITO, JJ., joined.
Opinion of the Court
JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.
54NLRB v. CANNING
Ordinarily the President must obtain "the Advice and Consent of the Senate" before appointing an "Officer of the United States." U.S. Const., Art. II, §2, cl. 2 . But the Recess Appointments Clause creates an exception. It gives the President alone the power "to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session." Art. II, §2, cl. 3 . We here consider three questions about the application of this Clause.
The first concerns the scope of the words "recess of the Senate." Does that phrase refer only to an inter-(*5) session recess (i.e., a break between formal sessions of Congress), or does it also include an intra-session recess, such as a summer recess in the midst of a session? We conclude that the Clause applies to both kinds of recess.
The second question concerns the scope of the words "vacancies that may happen." Does that phrase refer only to vacancies that first come into existence during a recess, or does it also include vacancies that arise prior to a recess but continue to exist during the recess? We conclude that the Clause applies to both kinds of vacancy.
The third question concerns calculation of the length of a "recess." The President made the appointments here at issue on January 4, 2012. At that time the Senate was in recess pursuant to a December 17, 2011, resolution providing for a series of brief recesses punctuated by "pro forma sessions," with "no business . . . transacted," every Tuesday and Friday through January 20, 2012. S. J., 112th Cong., 1st Sess., 923 (2011) (hereinafter 2011 S. J.). In calculating the length of a recess are we to ignore the pro forma sessions, thereby treating the series of brief recesses as a single, month-long recess? We conclude that we cannot ignore these pro forma sessions.
Our answer to the third question means that, when the appointments before us took place, the Senate was in the midst of a 3-day recess. Three days is too short a time to bring a recess within the scope of the Clause. Thus we conclude that the President lacked the power to make the recess appointments here at issue.
The case before us arises out of a labor dispute. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that a Pepsi-Cola distributor, Noel Canning, had unlawfully refused to reduce to writing and execute a collective-bargaining agreement with a labor union. The Board ordered the distributor to execute the agreement and to make employees whole for any losses. Noel Canning, 358 N. L. R. B. No. 4 (2012).
The Pepsi-Cola distributor subsequently asked the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to set the Board's order aside. It claimed that three of the five Board members had been invalidly appointed, leaving the Board without the three lawfully appointed members necessary for it to act. See 29 U.S.C. §160(f) (providing for judicial review); §153(a) (providing for a 5-member Board); §153(b) (providing for a 3-member quorum); New Process Steel, L. P. v. NLRB, 560 U.S. 674 , 687-688 (2010) (in the absence of a lawfully appointed quorum, the Board cannot exercise its powers).
The three members in question were Sharon Block, Richard Griffin, and Terence Flynn. In 2011 the President had nominated each of them to the Board. As of January 2012, Flynn's nomination had been pending in the Senate awaiting confirmation for approximately a year. The nominations of each of the other two had been pending for a few weeks. On January 4, 2012, the President, invoking the Recess Appointments Clause, appointed all three to the Board.
The distributor argued that the Recess Appointments Clause did not authorize those appointments. It pointed out that on December 17, 2011, the Senate, by unanimous consent, had adopted a resolution providing that it would (*6) take a series of brief recesses beginning the following day. See 2011 S. J. 923. Pursuant to that resolution, the Senate held pro forma sessions every Tuesday and Friday until it returned for ordinary business on January 23, 2012. Ibid.; 158 Cong. Rec. S1-S11 (Jan. 3-20, 2012). The President's January 4 appointments were made between the January 3 and January 6 pro forma sessions. In the distributor's view, each pro forma session terminated the immediately preceding recess. Accordingly, the appointments were made during a 3-day adjournment, which is not long enough to trigger the Recess Appointments Clause.
The Court of Appeals agreed that the appointments fell outside the scope of the Clause. But the court set forth different reasons. It held that the Clause's words "the recess of the Senate" do not include recesses that occur within a formal session of Congress, i.e., intra-session recesses. Rather those words apply only to recesses between those formal sessions, i.e., inter-session recesses. Since the second session of the 112th Congress began on January 3, 2012, the day before the President's appointments, those appointments occurred during an intra-session recess, and the appointments consequently fell outside the scope of the Clause. 705 F. 3d 490 , 499-507 (CADC 2013).
The Court of Appeals added that, in any event, the phrase "vacancies that may happen during the recess" applies only to vacancies that come into existence during a recess. Id., at 507-512 . The vacancies that Members Block, Griffin, and Flynn were appointed to fill had arisen before the beginning of the recess during which they were appointed. For this reason too the President's appointments were invalid. And, because the Board lacked a quorum of validly appointed members when it issued its order, the order was invalid. 29 U.S.C. §153(b) ; New Process Steel, supra .
We granted the Solicitor General's petition for certio-rari. We asked the parties to address not only the Court of Appeals' interpretation of the Clause but also the distributor's initial argument, namely, "[w]hether the President's recess-appointment power may be exercised when the Senate is convening every three days in pro forma sessions." 570 U.S. ___ (2013).
We shall answer all three questions presented. We recognize that the President has nominated others to fill the positions once occupied by Members Block, Griffin, and Flynn, and that the Senate has confirmed these successors. But, as the parties recognize, the fact that the Board now unquestionably has a quorum does not moot the controversy about the validity of the previously entered Board order. And there are pending before us petitions from decisions in other cases involving challenges to the appointment of Board Member Craig Becker. The President appointed Member Becker during an intra-session recess that was not punctuated by pro forma ses-sions, and the vacancy Becker filled had come into existence prior to the recess. See Congressional Research Service, H. Hogue, M. Carey, M. Greene, & M. Bearden, The Noel Canning Decision and Recess Appointments Made from 1981-2013, p. 28 (Feb. 4, 2013) (hereinafter (*7) The Noel Canning Decision); NLRB, Members of the NLRB since 1935, online at http://www.nlrb.gov/ who-we-are/board/members-nlrb-1935 (all Internet materials as visited June 24, 2014, and available in Clerk of Court's case file). Other cases involving similar challenges are also pending in the Courts of Appeals. E.g., NLRB v. New Vista Nursing & Rehabilitation, No. 11-3440 etc. (CA3). Thus, we believe it is important to answer all three questions that this case presents.
Before turning to the specific questions presented, we shall mention two background considerations that we find relevant to all three. First, the Recess Appointments Clause sets forth a subsidiary, not a primary, method for appointing officers of the United States. The immediately preceding Clause-Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 -provides the primary method of appointment. It says that the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States" (emphasis added).
The Federalist Papers make clear that the Founders intended this method of appointment, requiring Senate approval, to be the norm (at least for principal officers). Alexander Hamilton wrote that the Constitution vests the power of nomination in the President alone because "one man of discernment is better fitted to analise and estimate the peculiar qualities adapted to particular offices, than a body of men of equal, or perhaps even of superior dis-cernment." The Federalist No. 76, p. 510 (J. Cooke ed. 1961). At the same time, the need to secure Senate approval provides "an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to preventing the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity." Id., at 513. Hamilton further explained that the
"ordinary power of appointment is confided to the President and Senate jointly, and can therefore only be exercised during the session of the Senate; but as it would have been improper to oblige this body to be continually in session for the appointment of officers; and as vacancies might happen in their recess, which it might be necessary for the public service to fill without delay, the succeeding clause is evidently intended to authorise the President singly to make temporary appointments." Id., No. 67, at 455.
Thus the Recess Appointments Clause reflects the tension between, on the one hand, the President's continuous need for "the assistance of subordinates," Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 , 117 (1926), and, on the other, the Senate's practice, particularly during the Republic's early years, of meeting for a single brief session each year, see Art. I, §4, cl. 2 ; Amdt. 20, §2 (requiring the Senate to "assemble" only "once in every year"); 3 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States §1551, p. 410 (1833) (it would be "burthensome to the senate, and expensive to the public" to require the Senate to be "perpetually in session"). We seek to interpret the Clause as granting the President the power to make appointments during (*8) a recess but not offering the President the author-ity routinely to avoid the need for Senate confirmation.
Second, in interpreting the Clause, we put significant weight upon historical practice. For one thing, the inter-pretive questions before us concern the allocation of power between two elected branches of Government. Long ago Chief Justice Marshall wrote that
"a doubtful question, one on which human reason may pause, and the human judgment be suspended, in the decision of which the great principles of liberty are not concerned, but the respective powers of those who are equally the representatives of the people, are to be adjusted; if not put at rest by the practice of the government, ought to receive a considerable impression from that practice." McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 , 401 (1819).
And we later confirmed that "long settled and established practice is a consideration of great weight in a proper interpretation of constitutional provisions" regulating the relationship between Congress and the President. The Pocket Veto Case, 279 U.S. 655 , 689 (1929); see also id., at 690 "A practice of at least twenty years duration 'on the part of the executive department, acquiesced in by the legislative department, . . . is entitled to great regard in determining the true construction of a constitutional provision the phraseology of which is in any respect of doubtful meaning' " (quoting State v. South Norwalk, 77 Conn. 257 , 264 , 58 A. 759, 761 (1904))).
We recognize, of course, that the separation of powers can serve to safeguard individual liberty, Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 , 449-450 (1998) (KENNEDY, J., concurring), and that it is the "duty of the judicial department"-in a separation-of-powers case as in any other-"to say what the law is," Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 , 177 (1803). But it is equally true that the longstanding "practice of the government," McCulloch, supra, at 401 , can inform our determination of "what the law is," Marbury, supra, at 177 .
That principle is neither new nor controversial. As James Madison wrote, it "was foreseen at the birth of the Constitution, that difficulties and differences of opinion might occasionally arise in expounding terms & phrases necessarily used in such a charter . . . and that it might require a regular course of practice to liquidate & settle the meaning of some of them." Letter to Spencer Roane (Sept. 2, 1819), in 8 Writings of James Madison 450 (G. Hunt ed. 1908). And our cases have continually confirmed Madison's view. E.g., Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361 , 401 (1989); Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U.S. 654 , 686 (1981); Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 , 610-611 (1952) (Frankfurter, J., concurring); The Pocket Veto Case, supra, at 689-690 ; Ex parte Grossman, 267 U.S. 87 , 118-119 (1925); United States v. Mid west Oil Co., 236 U.S. 459 , 472-474 (1915); McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 1 , 27 (1892); McCulloch, supra ; Stuart v. Laird, 1 Cranch 299 (1803).
These precedents show that this Court has treated practice as an important interpretive factor even when the nature or longevity of that practice is subject to dispute, and even when that practice began after the founding era. See Mistretta, supra, 400-401 ("While these [practices] spawned spirited discussion and frequent criticism, . . . 'traditional ways of conducting government . . . give meaning' to the Constitution" (quoting Youngstown, supra, at 610 ) (Frankfurter, J., concurring)); Regan, supra, at 684 ("Even if the pre-1952 (practice) should be disregarded, (*9) congressional acquiescence in (a practice) since that time supports the President's power to act here"); The Pocket Veto Case, supra, at 689-690 (postfounding practice is entitled to "great weight"); Grossman, supra, at 118-119 (postfounding practice "strongly sustains" a "construction" of the Constitution).
There is a great deal of history to consider here. Presidents have made recess appointments since the beginning of the Republic. Their frequency suggests that the Senate and President have recognized that recess appointments can be both necessary and appropriate in certain circumstances. We have not previously interpreted the Clause, and, when doing so for the first time in more than 200 years, we must hesitate to upset the compromises and working arrangements that the elected branches of Government themselves have reached.
The first question concerns the scope of the phrase "the recess of the Senate." Art. II, §2, cl. 3 (emphasis added). The Constitution provides for congressional elections every two years. And the 2-year life of each elected Congress typically consists of two formal 1-year sessions, each separated from the next by an "inter-session recess." Congressional Research Service, H. Hogue, Recess Appointments: Frequently Asked Questions 2 (2013). The Senate or the House of Representatives announces an inter-session recess by approving a resolution stating that it will "adjourn sine die," i.e., without specifying a date to return (in which case Congress will reconvene when the next formal session is scheduled to begin).
The Senate and the House also take breaks in the midst of a session. The Senate or the House announces any such "intra-session recess" by adopting a resolution stating that it will "adjourn" to a fixed date, a few days or weeks or even months later. All agree that the phrase "the recess of the Senate" covers inter-session recesses. The question is whether it includes intra-session recesses as well.
In our view, the phrase "the recess" includes an intra-session recess of substantial length. Its words taken literally can refer to both types of recess. Founding-era dictionaries define the word "recess," much as we do today, simply as "a period of cessation from usual work." 13 The Oxford English Dictionary 322-323 (2d ed. 1989) (hereinafter OED) (citing 18th- and 19th-century sources for that definition of "recess"); 2 N. Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) ("[r]emission or suspension of business or procedure"); 2 S. Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language 1602-1603 (4th ed. 1773) (hereinafter Johnson) (same). The Founders themselves used the word to refer to intra-session, as well as to inter-session, breaks. See, e.g., 3 Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, p. 76 (M. Farrand rev. 1966) (hereinafter Farrand) (letter from George Washington to John Jay using "the recess" to refer to an intra-session break of the Constitutional Convention); id., at 191 (speech of Luther Martin with a similar usage); 1 T. Jefferson, A Manual of Parliamentary Practice §LI, p. 165 (2d ed. 1812) (describing a "recess by adjournment" which did not end a session).(*10)
We recognize that the word "the" in "the recess" might suggest that the phrase refers to the single break separating formal sessions of Congress. That is because the word "the" frequently (but not always) indicates "a particular thing." 2 Johnson 2003. But the word can also refer "to a term used generically or universally." 17 OED 879. The Constitution, for example, directs the Senate to choose a President pro tempore "in the Absence of the Vice-President." Art. I, §3, cl. 5 (emphasis added). And the Federalist Papers refer to the chief magistrate of an ancient Achaean league who "administered the government in the recess of the Senate." The Federalist No. 18, at 113 (J. Madison) (emphasis added). Reading "the" generically in this way, there is no linguistic problem applying the Clause's phrase to both kinds of recess. And, in fact, the phrase "the recess" was used to refer to intra-session recesses at the time of the founding. See, e.g., 3 Farrand 76 (letter from Washington to Jay); New Jersey Legislative-Council Journal, 5th Sess., 1st Sitting 70, 2d Sitting 9 (1781) (twice referring to a 4-month, intra-session break as "the Recess"); see also Brief for Petitioner 14-16 (listing examples).
The constitutional text is thus ambiguous. And we believe the Clause's purpose demands the broader interpretation. The Clause gives the President authority to make appointments during "the recess of the Senate" so that the President can ensure the continued functioning of the Federal Government when the Senate is away. The Senate is equally away during both an inter-session and an intra-session recess, and its capacity to participate in the appointments process has nothing to do with the words it uses to signal its departure.
History also offers strong support for the broad interpretation. We concede that pre-Civil War history is not helpful. But it shows only that Congress generally took long breaks between sessions, while taking no significant intra-session breaks at all (five times it took a break of a week or so at Christmas). See Appendix A, infra. Obviously, if there are no significant intra-session recesses, there will be no intra-session recess appointments. In 1867 and 1868, Congress for the first time took substantial, nonholiday intra-session breaks, and President Andrew Johnson made dozens of recess appointments. The Federal Court of Claims upheld one of those specific appointments, writing "we have no doubt that a vacancy occurring while the Senate was thus temporarily adjourned" during the "first